Pune: Tour operators pin hope on summer amid pandemic blues

With more people likely to get inoculated in a phase-wise manner in the coming months, the industry feels that revival, though slow, is soon on the cards.

With little for the tourism and hospitality industry to cheer from the recently announced Union Budget, the industry is still limping to survive. Since March last year, tourism – both domestic and international – has been reduced to nil with huge losses pegged in the subsequent months.

Though unlocking measures by the Centre have been largely initiated, international travel continues to remain restricted. This will add load onto domestic travel but hoteliers, travel agencies, tour operators and professionals associated with allied tourism services have only one concern – survival till green shoots appear in terms of tourists’ footfall and bookings.

“The tourism industry got little government support in the past several months. It is disappointing to get ignored even in the recent Budget,” said Vishwas Kelkar, immediate former chairman of the Travel Agents’ Association.

Having realised that professionals have to take matters in their own hands and face the slump unitedly, the recent annual general body meeting decided to approach banks and seek small loans till the situation improves. The move comes ahead of the summer season, considered the tourism season’s peak in India.

What has made the travel associations hopeful is the arrival of vaccines. With more people likely to get inoculated in a phase-wise manner in the coming months, the industry feels that revival, though slow, is soon on the cards.

“People stayed at home all of last year and now wish to venture outdoors. Tourists will feel confident if they are given appropriate safety and sanitisation facilities. Whenever that happens, we must ensure that all required arrangements are in place and that we remain fully geared to welcome tourists,” Kelkar added.

Vanita Deshpande and family enjoy their annual vacation every Diwali but last year was different. “We will wait and watch how the vaccination and the Covid-19 situation remain. If things improve, my family plans to travel in summer,” said Deshpande, who is an IT professional and has been living in Pune for over three years.

Starting April this year, the Maharashtra government will recognise tourism and hospitality as an “industry”. The government plans to draft policies to support and expand the scope for tourism in the state. Some of these include guided tours at tourist locations, permitting home-stays and agri-based tourism among many others.

While established tour operators managed to survive the pandemic blues, small and new agencies face an uncertain future. “We are seeking loans for survival for the next few months till the situation improves. We have approached banks to grant loans anywhere ranging between Rs 3 lakh to Rs 5 lakh so that agencies can support their staff and incur recurring expenses while operating basic services and an office. A few have been granted loans and we are trying to cover more parties,” he added.

Though many travel agencies and operators in the city have reported an increase in enquiries about tours by customers since the vaccine hit the market, bookings are yet to pace up.

“Most enquiries are being made for colder regions, including Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and some to the southern states. This year requests for pilgrim tours are very little because of the limited entry to places of worship,” said a Pimpri-based tour operator.

Rahul Prajapti, a college student from Satara, who wishes to take up a road trip with friends, said: “I am not sure of staying at hotels or interacting with people like I did before. I hope the situation improves soon.”

In the recent months, there has been a steady increase in week-end gateways and treks to nearby places since the unlock measures were initiated, observed the tour operators.

Reimbursing the amounts for travel plans of 2020 is another cause of concern for the operators. “This is a very complex issue. We, operators, have not been reimbursed the booking amounts by airlines or hoteliers. In case of air travel, the tickets have been kept as credit shells with the airlines that have agreed to extend the bookings for six more months. Hoteliers have agreed to consider the bookings for future stay,” Kelkar said.

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